Ian and Blanche

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1.2.2 Alexander McRae (1858-1940) Youth (-1892)

Alexander was born on 7 July, 1858, at Mount Hollowbank near Ascot, Victoria.

Since Alexander McK.’s family spoke Gaelic at home (the mother knew that language only) and at that time and place there was little opportunity for very small children to mingle with others outside the family, the young Alexander did not begin to speak English until he started school.  He attended the school at Glengower from 1866, the year it opened.  He was then eight years old.

Alexander was a good pupil, quickly learning to read well and even to puzzle out unfamiliar words from their Latin or Greek roots.

He had only been at school a few years when his father required him to leave to support himself and make his own way in the world.  He worked first as a boundary rider on the Yanca-a-Yanca Station near Nhill (Yanac town) in Victoria.  Later he worked in the same capacity on a station north of Willania in New South Wales, owned by the Roach family.

Alexander became accustomed to living in the bush and coping with its dangers as a matter of routine.  An acquaintance described a later incident illustrating this.   He and Alexander were walking around a haystack checking for wet spots when they happened across a venomous snake.  Alexander casually grasped the reptile by the tail, flicked it like a whip to crack its spine and flung it aside—all without breaking stride or pausing in conversation.

Alexander’s education, brief as it was, provided him with the foundations of a life-long interest in religion, politics and literature.  Among the books he owned when he died: The Bible, "The World Crisis 1914-1918" by Winston S. Churchill, the Australian classic "For the Term of his Natural Life" by Marcus Clarke, and historical romances such as "Rob Roy" by Sir Walter Scott.

No passive reader, the young Alexander formed strong opinions about the world revealed to him on the printed page.

Though himself a Presbyterian, he believed that the Protestant churches should unite to join faith with good works according to the model of the Salvation Army.  A photograph of him as a young man shows him wearing the working outfit of that organization.  Of medium height—about 5’9"—muscular and big-boned, he is posed in the confident attitude of a debater about to address a subject on which he feels particularly well-informed.  Such as, in Alexander’s case, the evils of sectarianism.

On the political side of the same coin, Alexander held that the welfare of the poor, the infirm and the unemployed to be the responsibility of the family and the church rather than of government.  Consequently he found nothing but wrongheadedness in the socialistic ideas that swept Australia in his lifetime, and he saw every left-leaning politician as a conspirator in what he perceived as the nation’s slide into sloth and decadence.

One politician for whom Alexander held in particular contempt was the labourite Premier of New South Wales in the 1920s, Jack Lang.  When that gentleman was amusingly upstaged at the 1930 opening of the celebrated Sydney Harbour bridge—he was about to cut the ceremonial ribbon when the captain of the mounted honor guard robbed him of his moment of glory by slashing the ribbon with his sword—Alexander was not just amused, he was ecstatic.  For him the guard’s prank was a brief gleam of sunshine in a generally gloomy political firmament.

Even more fervently than he abhorred left-wing politics, Alexander abhorred alcohol.   He never permitted any drinking, or even any reference to drinking in his presence.   In later life he even forbade the singing of a seemingly harmless ditty popularized by a music-hall comedian of the time, Harry Lauder:

Just a wee doch an’ doris
Before we gang awa’

His loathing of booze most likely originated in Alexander McK.’s decline into alcoholism following Jean’s death in 1866.  So intense was Alexander’s bitterness on this score that never afterwards mentioned his father’s name.

Having a drunken father and two sisters left destitute by feckless husbands, Alexander did not lack occasion to put his ideals of family unity and self-reliance to the test in real life.  He did what he could to help Anne and Betty, whenever possible traveling through the bush on horseback to take them money or supplies.

On one such occasion he was walking his horse somewhere in the vicinity of Euroa when he had a brush with three members of the Kelly gang of bushrangers, notorious thieves of livestock.  As Alexander recalled, three men mounted on frisky horses sprang out of the bush, cantered up alongside him and questioned him along the lines of: Where are you from? Where are you going? Is that your mare you’re riding?  Realizing he was in danger of having to continue his trip on foot, Alexander allowed that the mare moved well, but had the wit to add that she picked up stones, implying that she lamed easily.  At this the bushrangers lost interest, wheeled about and made off into the bush.   Alexander later recognized the men from Wanted posters: they were Joe Burns, Steve Hart and Dan Kelly.  The gang leader, Ned Kelly, may have been watching from a hiding-place in the bush.

In his twenties Alexander became a capable man of the land, and by about 1890 he had a farm in Duchembegarra, in the Shire of Natimuk, Victoria.  In all likelihood he first went to that place to visit some relatives who had already settled there.  The land itself had little to recommend it.  The mallee14  scrubplain of the Duchembegarra area being unsuitable for agriculture,15  Alexander’s farm was not very productive.

Unconducive though it was to success in farming, from another standpoint Alexander’s move to Duchembegarra was fortunate indeed.  It was there that he met his future wife, Sarah Oliver.


Continue reading: 1.2.3 Sarah Oliver (1865-1934) Youth (-1892)


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1. Ian McRae (1904-1975) Background and Youth (-1929)

1.2 First Foothold in Australia

1.2.1 Alexander McKenzie McRae (1819-1899)

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1.2.3 Sarah Oliver (1865-1934) Youth (-1892)


Footnotes:
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14. A dwarf eucalyptus.

15. It was later abandoned for that purpose and returned to the state. Duchembegarra is not shown on present-day maps.